A new definition of blockbuster movies?

Movie theaters no longer define what a blockbuster is


Via Pixabay

The first movie theater in America opened in 1905. Since then, going to the movies has become a societal custom in which families and friends watch a new release with a big screen and shared audience.

However, in the last two decades, movie theater attendance numbers have been in a slow decline. One recent factor that can be considered as possibly having an effect on theater attendance is the development of streaming platforms and home access. At this year’s D23 expo, Disney CEO Bob Chapek reinforced this theory by saying in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter that movie theaters might become a business driven by blockbusters and people might see movies with less potential for big numbers release on streaming platforms instead.

But is there a way to know what movie will become a blockbuster? For example, people thought “Minions: Rise of Gru” would not perform well since recent children’s movies released after 2020 did not. For example, “Encanto,” “Lightyear” and “Sing 2” did not make more than $200 million each domestically at the box office. Despite this trend, “Minions: Rise of Gru” did great by making more than $300 million domestically and almost $1 billion worldwide.

Alternatively, Sony thought “Morbius” would be a blockbuster thinking it would draw in Spider-Man fans, even re-releasing it after it trended as a meme on social media, but it underperformed both times.

In conversation, Reddit user EllieCat009, who has been a manager at Phoenix Theatres for six years, said there isn’t a way for people to tell if something is going to be a blockbuster.

“Obviously you can track movies based off of consumer interest and getting feedback from marketing, for example Paramount knew “Top Gun: Maverick” was going to be big, though I’m not sure anyone knew how big it was going to be, but every year there are always box office surprises, like “Everything Everywhere All at Once” or “Barbarian.” … plus studios will want to keep theatrical releases to stay eligible for awards season,” she said.

Awards and box office numbers are great for studios but the decline in theater attendance along with award show viewership shows that audiences might not care so much about those. With the development of streaming platforms and the 2020 pandemic, studios released some movies on streaming platforms and saw great success.

In the same interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Chapek said that “Encanto” was, “A modest success theatrically and then we put it into Disney+ and it shot up to No. 1,” which caused it to become a phenomenon regarding merchandise sales and music streaming because of the at-home streaming audience.

Merchandise sales might be what a company like Disney seeks with properties like Star Wars, Marvel and Disney Princesses. Making a modest return on a movie’s budget at the box office seems like pocket change when billions of dollars can be made by adults and kids buying toys, clothes and collectibles of their favorite movie characters, all from movies which can be seen from the comfort of one’s home.

That doesn’t mean that movie theaters will become obsolete to audiences. While not having to pay multiple tickets for kids to watch a movie they can watch at home may appeal to parents, there is still an audience that wants to see movies in theaters, and Tom Cruise knows it.

According to Deadline, when asked earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival if his movies would release on streaming platforms instead of theaters, Tom Cruise said, “No. That’s not going to happen. Ever.”

“I make movies for the big screen,” he said to an audience.

The shared audience experience that movie theaters provide is still something people desire to take part in. This can be seen with clips of audience reactions to the “Avengers” movies or teens going to see “Minions: Rise of Gru” en masse while wearing suits.

Adding on, movie theaters offer more formats to watch movies compared to home movie-viewing experiences, like Dolby Cinema, ScreenX and 4DX.
While streaming movies at home is great and becoming another societal custom, physically going to the movies is still a cultural activity that provides an experience people will continue desiring to share with each other.